Interview with Chef Shea Gallante of Cru - New York, NY

April, 2005

StarChefs: How old are you?
Shea Gallante: 31

SC: What inspired you to start working in a pizzeria at age 14?
SG: It was one of three jobs available in small town USA for a kid under the age of 16.

SC: Why did you attend CIA? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
SG: It was a no-brainer for me. I figured I’d look around a bit, but I grew up in Dutchess County. Yes, I recommend culinary school. But, the right intentions make a world of difference.

SC: You’ve worked with Pino Luongo, Lidia Bastianich, Fortunato Nicotra and David Bouley. Who do you consider your most influential mentor? Why? What did they teach you?
SG: I learned from each. Pino was a multi-unit operator, but he had small company values. I learned about management and consistent numbers from him. From David I learned finesse, technique. I learned how to operate on a higher level, honing my palate. He taught me that everything is a component on a plate, whereas at Felidia, we braised and did many one-pot meals. Lidia is a great businesswoman; a smart employer. And, from Fortunato Nicotra I learned a lot about creativity, ingredients.

SC: We read in your bio that while working in Bouley’s kitchen, you “explored the avant-garde techniques of the Spanish masters.” Which in particular? Have you spent any time in Spain working with them?
SG: I learned many techniques from David when he came back from his trips in 2000-2003.

SC: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
SG: Any young chef. Neal Gallagher, Johnny Iuzzini, Brad Thompson, Wylie Dufresne, Galen Zamarra.

SC: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
SG: I try to exploit every possible seasonal ingredient. Black winter truffles, fresh fish, mushrooms.

SC: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
My combi-oven. Nothing can replace it. Best tool any kitchen can have.
SC: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
SG: I more try to focus energy on making my food taste better. I’m very meticulous in execution. But, I operate in a spontaneous way; I like to put things together on the spot.

SC: What emerging trends do you see in the industry?
SG: It’s getting more technical; more molecular cooking. There’s a focus on commercial grade products applied to an entrepreneurial level: gums, stabilizers.

SC: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
SG: What are your goals? What stage do you think you’re at in your career? What are you going to accomplish working for me? If somebody asks how much the job pays- I don’t want that person.

SC: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
SG: Moving around a lot is a bad thing. One year isn’t enough to learn from any good chef. I’ve been in New York for nine years and have had three jobs. You need time to learn.

SC: What are your favorite cookbooks?
SG: I have hundreds of them. Some of the latest I’ve acquired are pastry books: Iginio Massari. I just bought Marino Cedrini’s sushi book.

SC: Where do you go for culinary travel?
SG: Japan—one of the purest places to eat simple food.

SC: What are your favorite restaurants in NYC – not necessarily fine dining?
SG: Masa, 66, Omen, Sushi Yasuda, Oceana, I don’t get out much.

SC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
SG: Working for my unborn child! In five years I hope to have a few restaurants.